Thursday, June 30, 2005


Interestingly enough, it’s beginning to feel like I may have worked myself out of a job, again. Let me explain.

Contract jobs are usually targeted on two fronts by the client, duration (as in time/hours) and the project, or projects they want completed. Those of you who’ve been reading here a while may recall that this job started out as a little 6 week job, last November. About a month ago they extended my contract, again, this time though the end of this year.

This week however, I’ve finished virtually everything they've given me to do. I’ve been in high gear, primarily to clear my plate for the testing phase of the customer data/D&B sync up. Yesterday, one of the full time employees here may have made my assistance in that process redundant, as a result of some great work on her part.

As many of you also know, we’ve been experimenting with a number of ‘String Comparator’ techniques in an attempt to up the percentage of records we’d be able to machine match. Well this week she began the front end work on the process that would eventually incorporate my work.

One of the items in our plan was to apply the existing Name and address standards to the data initially, make as many ‘natural matches’ as possible, and then work on the remaining layers. When she finished applying the standardization process, a full 50% of the records matched, another 25% had only a name difference with identical street, city, state and Zip code matches, another 12% had only a street address difference with identical Company names, city. State and Zip.

With well over 80% of the file machine matching according to the rules the industry established for this process, there’s not much need for all the additional work to incorporate that comparator code. (Although that still leaves somewhere in the vacinity of 50-70,000 records unmatched) So, with that dramatic shift in direction, I asked my project manager what she’d like me to focus on, next week, while she’s on vacation.

Her response? “I don’t care what you work on next week, we’ll talk when I get back”.

I suppose I could take that two ways; first, she’s got to have a little time to find a place to ‘slot me in’ as she too had me pretty booked up, or, second, she honestly has no idea how she’s going to justify continuing the contract at this point.

Funny the difference, a day, and one run through a few hundred thousand data records can mean.

Also, for what it’s worth, I think this other programmer did a great job, and did exactly the right thing by taking her results up the chain here. It may not be the best thing for me, on a personal level, but, it’s certainly the right thing to do for the company! She’s got real skills, and is an excellent ‘outside the box’ thinker. It’s her influence has been a big part of what’s really helped push this project along and I’m happy she got this win!

I’m hopeful (aren’t I always?) that they’ll just hand me some more work they hadn’t mentioned yet as they didn’t feel I’d have time for it now. I do know my manager would like to see the company make me an offer for a permanent job, as she’s mentioned it several times. I suppose this shift could speed that process up, or end it altogether; I guess I’ll find out in a week or so.

I do have this Hummingbird ‘object model’ thing to work on, it needs to be done, but it is such a screwed up model, and so not ready for use with much except Visual Basic. I’m going to let that project rattle around in my head this weekend, along with some beer, Bondo dust and paint fumes and see what I come up with!

Just another day in the roller coaster ride that’s my career. Feast or famine it seems. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking it all in stride. I’d love for this gig to continue, contract or FTE (Full Time Employee). On the other hand, it could be time to take a month off, do some writing, thrash on the truck and let the placement folks earn their money….

Besides, it’s almost Friday… a long Holiday weekend approaching… and worrying isn’t going to change a thing… It will be, what ever it’s going to be, that I’m sure of. The other thing I’m sure of, is I’ll roll with it, whatever it is.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Little things…..

I was in a meeting today, and got a fairly nice compliment from the folks there, on my work in another project I’d recently finished.

I mention this, because, in my professional experience, it’s a pretty rare event. As a contract programmer, I’m expected to deliver, that’s why I’m there. I’ve grown so very accustomed to not hearing “thank you’s” or compliments in general, that this sort of took me by surprise.

I’ve mentioned before that the team I’m working with on this contract has been great, and my project manager has said many nice things. But this was an entirely different group, and the kind words had been conveyed to them, by a person using an application I’d recently reworked.

I found it more than a little ironic, that, shortly after writing a post about no one noticing our efforts, only the mistakes, that I’d have this experience. (or is that Karma?)

So I’ve been reflecting on it, a bit, this evening. I had to think back to 1993, to think of another project I was on where they felt compliments were as important as critique.

There are some parallels between that environment, and this one, for sure. That contract was for a project where we were developing software for convenience stores. Nearly all the people there were either developers, planners, or a bit of both. The focus was on the application, getting it developed and deployed. They weren’t building a long overdue application for a ‘business need’. Instead, we were building a product.

The organization I’m currently contracted to, while not ‘reselling’ the software it develops, does deploy it for use in an entire industry, and garners a revenue stream from its use. The software is an integral component of their service architecture.

So, in essence, in both situations the software is a product, not a ‘tool’.

The work environments are similar as well. In the 1993 shop, I felt almost like I was on a college campus. We were encouraged to talk, toss ideas around and use the best solutions we could come up with to complete whatever section we were working on.

One of the little things that impressed me immediately at my current gig is the work area configuration. In each ‘quad’ of cubicles, in the middle, is a table large enough for four people to sit and have an impromptu ‘meeting’. They also try to place people near others doing similar, or complimentary jobs. This too encourages interaction, discussion, and in my mind, a better overall result.

I wonder though, is it me? Have I just been unfortunate enough to have only worked in a handful of really well run operations, or are most companies just poorly organized and run by folks who have no clue when it comes to real productivity gains?

There’s a different ‘pace’ to both this place and the 1993 gig as well. There are often tight deadlines, but not one on top of another, in an endless stream of ‘needed it yesterday’ thinking. There’s planning, vision, foresight and a recognition that all plans are flawed and need to remain fluid. The focus then is that we need to be building today, what the clients will need, a year, or further, in the future.

I’m sure there’s a lot more in common as well, but I don’t really want to dwell there.

At this point I’m just fairly amazed, that in 20 plus years, several hundred clients, (over a thousand actually if you count all of the off site ‘spec’ development I’ve done) and a dozen employers, that only two stand out to me as really well run operations.

Maybe I see them as well run because they suit my particular style? I can’t dismiss that as part of it, but I don’t see it as all of it. I’ve been comfortable nearly everywhere, and enjoyed most jobs, or contracts regardless of the corporate culture, as long as I got to do, the voodoo I do, and got paid.

It’s possible, that at this stage in my career I ‘see’ more now, than I did say a decade ago, that the quality of the workplace, and my work, is more important to me now, than just having work. (But don’t think for a moment I wouldn’t work in the worst place I’d ever been, if it came down to it, because I would!)

Or, is it that I’m finally mature enough (dare I say old enough?) to actually appreciate it now?

Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know, is that I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, the experiences, so, that right now, I’m aware that I’m working one of the best gigs I’ve ever had. It’s making the experience that much richer for me. I know for sure, that back in ’93, I did not have this point of reference and as a result didn’t enjoy that one as fully as I could have.

So I guess the point of this ramble is…. Take the time to look at where you are, and if you find yourself in a good spot, appreciate it. If on the other hand, you don’t, take comfort in the fact that there are in fact, better spots down the road and just keep moving forward.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Driven to the edge... of what?

I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘driven’ man, in fact I often lament the fact I don’t have more drive. That I don’t get more done, accomplish more, try more things, that I never seem to have enough time.

Lately, well for a few years now, I’ve also felt, well, older. I don’t have the energy I once did that’s for sure, I’ve written lately about some of the things I’ve done. I didn’t mention though, that back then, a sixteen hour day was not unusual, in fact it was pretty common.

All along I’ve been thinking that somewhere, something in me changed, that I’d lost the edge.

Then today, Spirit of Owl types this in a comment:

"If I don't do this, it'll be ok, and maybe nobody will even know... except me!"

That just about sums me up. In everything I attempt and especially those things I work on alone, that phrase, or one almost exactly the same, haunts me. It used to be much worse though, if I ‘cut a corner’ on a project I’d think about it, replay it actually, in my head, attempting to justify the corner I’d cut. In some cases, I didn’t even own the car, truck or house in question any longer.

Eventually, I realized that the only person, the work behind any project really matters to, is the one doing the project. No one cares how many times John Grisham rewrote a paragraph, how many times a story started and dried up on him before he finished it. Folks do care though, about the appearance of the finished product.

You could build a house, one perfectly square, with every stud, rafter and joist exactly 16” on center. The plumbing and electrical systems could be works of art, in and of themselves. The doors, windows, light switches and fixtures perfectly placed. But, if the finish on the drywall is sloppy, or the trim uneven or poorly matched, that is what will be noticed.

I can get lost in the details sometimes, but, I always have a vision. Right now, I can ‘see’ that truck finished. I’m not saying ‘see’ in an abstract sense either, I mean I can close my eyes, concentrate and ‘take a tour’ of that truck. Front to back, top to bottom, from the inside out, or the outside in, 3D and Technicolor. Some folks would say it’s a blessing, some a curse. I’m somewhere in the middle.

The problem is though, because I can see it, I can’t leave things ‘undone’. If you look at the picture where I’ve cut out the panel from the truck bed as an example, there’s some surface rust in there, nothing serious. In fact a wire brush and a shot of undercoating would probably work just fine. In my minds eye however, it’s been sandblasted clean and repainted so it looks as good as, or better than, it did new.

I wonder at times, am I the only one who feels like this? That it just has to be right or I’ll never really be happy with the result? I know now, that there’s at least one other person, Spirit, who at least knows the feeling.

I’ve also got to mention, that Firehawk’s comment on how what he found most interesting were the register marks and writing on the panels:

“The best part of the pictures has to be all the notations drawn on the panels with Sharpies. I liked the guidelines and angle notes and so forth.”

Those took forever to get right. I’m a real believer in, when working with body panels, measure four times, cut once and measure everything again. If this were wood, I could just run down to Lowe’s and get another 2x4. Here, if I cut one time and take too much off, I’m pretty much hosed. A single mistake becomes a geometric increase in the amount of time, and work involved at that point, not too mention the increase in my frustration level.

Then there’s the other problem with this ‘vision’ thing. I’m the only one who can see it. I don’t have the drawing ability of a Chip Foose, so about the only way anyone ever sees one of my visions, is if I actually build it. I tried to explain an idea I have for the graphics to my wife today. I was pretty excited about it and tried to ‘paint a picture with words for her. Just didn’t work.

It kind of reminded me of when we were remodeling this house before we moved in. She had no idea what I had in mind. She just had faith in me, that not only could I think it, I could also do it. I love her for that. For the way she just flat believes in me, not sort of, not half way, full flat out 100 percent committed belief.

Whenever I get discouraged, and believe me I do, she’ll just say to me “Just don’t loose your vision, you’ll get it done, you always do”.

So, to you two guys, thanks for noticing. I know I’ll get this done, eventually, although I keep hoping for sooner rather than later!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Some pics I've promised...

The first ‘custom’ item on the agenda for this truck was the gas ‘fillers’ on the bed. First on the list, because the truck bed was the one area that needed the most work, much of it underneath and out of sight. I figured if I was going to put all the effort into making the bed look new, inside and out, I just ‘had’ to do this too!

The original gas filler on this truck bed was a style I've always disliked. It protruded from the side of the bed taking away from the truck's lines, was a constant source of “pilfering fun" for kids passing by, and for catching clothing parts if you were walking too close or tying something down.

I’d always favored the setup on the ’79 trucks that had a square filler door covering the gas cap. So, when I found a bed, with those doors on it while scavenging parts in a local scrap yard I made a deal and picked it up. Unfortunately, the bed was in worse shape than mine (so I got it cheap), the filler door area was about the only good (not rusty or dented) portion of the bed.

What I needed to do, was cut a panel out of each bed (on both sides as the truck has dual gas tanks) and swap the ones from the donor, to my original. First, I marked and cut out a panel on my bed (here’s another shot showing some of the other damage).

I would normally cut out the donor piece first, but sometime before I ever saw it, someone had tried (unsuccessfully) to drive the truck between two trees. This had driven this portion of the bed in about 2.5 inches. Unfortunately the pictures don’t really show the extent and depth of the damage. Let’s just say it wasn’t a simple task to pull out, even in a full on body shop, mainly because of it’s location and depth.

So, by cutting out this piece first, it made pulling the dent out level again much easier, although it still took about a hundred stud pins, in several sessions. Eventually after about two hours of fastening pins and pulling with a slide hammer (in the hot sun), I had it close to right. That didn’t include the 45 minutes or with a hammer and dolly to reform the bed line!

So, after a sweaty day in the sun, this is where I wound up. You can see all the measurements, and ‘register’ lines if you look closely. When I said working with one set of hands took more measuring, I wasn’t kidding!

Not very pretty to most eyes and not exactly where I’d hoped to end the day. The panel is ready though, to be pre-drilled. Once I do that, and attach a few rivets to ‘tack’ it in place temporarily, I can repeat the process in the other side!

Today… well, so far it’s been intermittent rain showers, not the kind of day you want to be working with steel and electric power tools outside. So, my next plan is to get about three other guys over here, snake the motor and transmission out of the truck, move the bed away from the front door of the garage and push the truck cab and frame outside. Hopefully I can get that happening by next weekend.

It’s just too hot in the sun to be attempting to do this body work outside any longer. Epoxy’s, body fillers, primers, essentially everything I’ll be using is very sensitive to temperature, and especially to direct sunlight. Think of trying to wax your car in the sun, instead of the shade, with a paste wax. It can be done, but it adds an unwanted level of complexity and ups the annoyance factor a 1000 fold!

Oh, and for those of you who are interested, this is the tool I use to do the rough cut outs, it’s called a ‘cut-off’ tool. The tool on the far right in this picture is an electric metal shear. I use those like you would manual ‘tin snips’, but it’s a lot faster, makes a cleaner cut and is a whole lot less work.

Finally, here’s a snapshot of some of the tools I needed today. I say some, because I’d already started putting things away before I thought to take this. It’s pretty much everything except the grinders, body hammers and dollies I’d already put up. The big blue, pistol looking thing at the top, towards the left is the stud gun. It’s what attaches those studs in the earlier pictures. Right below that is a ‘contour gauge’, you place it up against an undamaged section, capture the contours, and then lock it in place to use as a guide while you work. Much, much faster and easier than making the cardboard cutouts we used to use!

So there you have it, a glimpse into my Saturday and some idea of the amount of work that goes into restoring, just this one corner, of this old truck. Maybe I’m crazy, a glutton for punishment or don’t know, when, to say when. Then again, maybe, just maybe, I keep picturing the twinkle there’ll be in my wife’s eyes when she finally looks at it for the first time, finished. When I open the door for her, let her climb up in the cab, and fire it up for her first drive, and again when she comes back from that ‘test drive’ with a big smile on her face.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about, the finished product, for her. I’ll complain about the work, the heat, the sweat, and occasionally the money… but the truth is I really do love doing this stuff, I just wish I wasn’t so rusty at it right now!! I keep remembering what I could get done in a day, back in the day. Then I end up thinking I can get close to that production level and end up being disappointed/frustrated. So, yesterday I resolved to stop thinking about time, to focus on the task, let it take what ever time it takes, and then move on to the next one.

If you enjoy this type of post, or don’t, let me know. I’ll certainly have a lot more to post over the coming weeks and months.

Thanks again for stopping by!!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Ok… I feel much better now….

I spent the past several hours hammering, grinding, nibbling and fitting sheet metal for one side of that old truck’s bed. It’s in the upper 80’s here now, and the sun has the metal so hot I can’t work with it any longer, so, I’m taking a break. It’s amazing to me sometimes how much some real physical labor, a ton of sweat and some tangible, visible results can improve my mood!!

It’s looking good too, as soon as the temps start to drop (and if the thunderstorm they’re predicting doesn’t happen, I’ll have the rough in of the custom work that one side of the bed done. I’m not as fast as I once was, that’s for sure. Also, working with precise fitting is a bit more difficult with only one set of hands.

Normally my wife would be out there working with me and being that second pair of hands. But, with her back troubles, I don’t want her aggravating it over this project. So, I use a lot of tape, some magnets and take a lot of measurements instead. Works out fine, just takes about three times as long.

I’ll post some of the pics I took along the way later today, once I’m done fitting and ready for the final attachment. I need to get the fit perfect and aligned so I can take the panel back off, and then use the sandblaster on the interior metal before painting it with a rust preventative paint. I use a product called POR-15 for that. It’s expensive, but so is having all your hard work ruined by some rust eating through it in a year.

I’ll sandblast everything I can get at and then either spray, or brush it on all the bare metal. I’ve never had anything I’ve coated with this stuff rust again (in that place anyway). It’s pretty toxic though, so, if you decide to try it, be sure to wear an approved mask. You can even paint it right over rust; it’ll bond with it and stop it.

Anyway, it’s good stuff; I don’t want this sounding like a commercial!

I’m going to use a new product to attach these panels I’m forming. It’s an actual ‘Panel Adhesive’ that’s purported to bond the two panels, allowing the use of ‘pop-rivets’ and eliminating the need to weld the panels. What that means is that I can prepare all the ‘back sides’ before final fit up and not have the coatings ruined by the heat of welding. I’m a little skeptical, but, I figure given all the work it’ll save, it’s worth a shot.

I’m headed off to relax a bit…. I hope you’re all having a great weekend!

Friday, June 24, 2005

This is the week that was…

I think you all know I try to put a good spin on things but this week has just been one of ‘those weeks’, just one thing, after another, all week.

I love programming, building things, taking something from a spark of an idea and making it real.

I’m a lucky guy, most days, weeks; I get to do what I love. What I don’t love about development though, is indecision. Start, stop, hurry up, and slow down, but not that slow…

For six months now I’ve really been spoiled. I get up, go to the office (most days, but, some days I even get to work from home), and just do what I do, and marvel that I get paid for having so much fun!

Then there are the weeks like this one. You all know about the hardware problems at my office so we can just forget about that for now. On the job I’ve started, stopped, backed up, gone forward, and worked harder this week than any in the last 52 and I have nothing, nada, zilch in the way of forward progress to show for it.

Most times I’d even spin it to myself that I’d ‘learned’ something, and maybe, with time there will have been a lesson in this week. But, at the moment, I don’t see it.

I think the single most frustrating aspect, and this is only one of a dozen from this week, is a little package called ‘Hummingbird’. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s what’s known as an ‘emulator’, it emulates the old green screen terminals we used to use for mainframes.

There are others, one from Attachmate is another pretty popular one.

Well, much of what I’ve been doing has centered on extracting information from Mainframe based DB2 databases and making them available on the network in smaller targeted applications, say to produce nice graphic, for publication reports. The emulator in use when I got there was the one from Attachmate.

Essentially my application will, in the background, log in to the mainframe, establish connections to the DB2 tables, extract the data for the reports and present them to the user all without them having to know ‘where’ that data resides or the rules for retrieving it.

Recently, as I started rolling out my applications they would work on some PC’s and not on others. It honestly had me baffled for a day or so. Then I realized that not ‘all’ the PC’s had the Attachmate emulator, some had ‘Hummingbird’, and some had both. After a few phone calls I discovered that the company had switched to Hummingbird; three ‘years’ ago!!

The development machine I was provided had only the Attachmate product configured, as a result, I’ve been building apps around a technology they abandoned. If that wasn’t bad enough, the version that’s “standard”, well its 7.1, the current version is 10 and the vendor’s support for 7.1 ended (as in they no longer support it) in April of this year.

So now, I’ve got the wonderful task of sorting out an automation object model, on an obsolete version of software, against a very rigid deadline. Sweet, the stuff burnout is fueled by!

So, lest you think it’s all sunshine and rose petals on this side of the screen, I’ve typed one of my ‘rants’, without the smoothing effects of time or the benefit of hindsight. Just my total frustration, at the end of a very long week, at being essentially where I was when it started, maybe even back to Wednesday or Thursday of the prior week.

I think I’ll just hit the garage in the morning and hit some steel with hammers and dollies, grinding wheels, welders and whatever else destructive I can find and make some progress on that old truck until it gets too hot to work.

I’ll let you all know later if my ‘physical therapy’ helps at all!!

Thanks for stopping by and reading… I’ll find something much more fun to write about for tomorrow!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Pulled out one more…

Thanks in no small part to a product called “TrueImage”

As I told you in the last post, the ‘boot drive’ on my primary PC died on Wednesday. This was a minor disaster in that I didn’t have anything backed up. I hate to even admit it in public, me the ‘back it up’ king when it comes to the client sites, but I didn’t have my own stuff backed up.

Fortunately, today’s hardware is much more intelligent than just 5 years ago, and the drive reported problems and I got a ‘notice’ during start up before it had totally died. I wrestled with buying a new PC, and like Kevin suggested, I almost did. But, buying a new PC would have left me with a long evening of software reinstalls, and, none of my data.

So, like to true techno-dweeb that I am, I decided I would clone the old drive, seemed simple enough, and I had the tools to do it. Or so I thought.

I had a product called ‘Drive Copy’ that I’ve cloned hundreds of drives with, but it couldn’t read something or other of the failing drive (I was thinking “no kidding, if it was perfect I wouldn’t need to be copying it!!”) and aborted.

I also had a copy of a shareware product “HDCopy” or something similar that had also worked on other machines with similar problems in the past, but, this time, for me…. No dice… same answer, it was failing to read something or another of the old drive.

So after, four or five hours of watching these programs post little progress bars, like an expectant father, to no ultimate avail, I called it a night.

Today, I did a little more research and came across this product “TrueImage 8.0”.

I ordered it on line, downloaded it and during the install (which I did on the good PC) it prompts (and suggests strongly) that you build a bootable ‘rescue’ CD, which it did flawlessly. I slipped that new Rescue CD into the dead machine (I still had the new and old drives hooked up from last night) and pressed the ‘On’ button.

It booted a bit slowly, but came up, fully ‘mouse capable’, windows-like screen, each icon you clicked on had an explanation synopsis of the left side of the screen. All extremely easy and straight forward… and I’m sitting there thinking this is too easy, no way is it going to work. But I clicked ‘drive image’ or something similar and got ready.

There were several screens, each very well documented and clear as to what was going on (a very nice change from the norm) and with several clicks of the mouse, we were on our way (with me still thinking this is far too easy to really work).

Or so I thought… after sitting there for about fifteen minutes it started reporting errors, I tried ‘retry’ and ‘ignore’, and then finally I just clicked ‘Ignore All’ and let it rip. By the way, the other programs died when they’d hit, what I assume were, these same errors.
After about 30-40 minutes of analyzing, I got one last prompt asking me if I was sure I wanted to copy the drive image the way I had it configured… I of course clicked ‘Yes’…

Back off into cyberspace went this little program… it sat for the longest time…. Maybe 20 minutes or so... and reported it could not read from “sector 1”. The kiss of death, the whole enchilada, this is about the worst Hard Drive error a techie can see…

“Sector 1” is the beginning of what’s known as the ‘boot sector’, that place that breathes life into any operating system, Dos, Windows, Unix… they all utilize that place to ‘get started’… if it’s dead, the OS is dead… I’m hosed.

So I click retry a half dozen times, ignore a few more… and finally give up and click “ignore all” once again. I remember thinking, “what other choice do I have”, and then let’s just see what this little program can do.

It sat there for the longest time again, maybe 15 minutes more, before it began showing any progress at all, then moving along, then stopping and ‘thinking’ before moving on again. This is all pretty nerve wracking stuff for me, as with each stop in the progress bar I’m expecting it to post some type of ‘failure’ message, leaving me dead in the water yet again.

But that never happened, it kept chugging along and after about an hour and a half it pronounced the drive had been ‘successfully copied’.

I’m still a wreck though, figuring with all the error messages and the other two programs flat out giving up, no way is this going to work. Regardless, I connect the new ‘C’ drive up and hit the go switch….

Miracles do happen… it booted up, complained about some missing links (even Windows is looking for the missing link.), some complaints that the rest of the drives weren’t connected, but overall, it spun right up, I logged in and then Windows told me that to complete the installation of my new hardware, a reboot was required, did I want to do that now?

I thought for a couple of seconds… not exactly sure if I should try to drag some data off first, or not…. But then I just went ahead and clicked “Yes”, and waited for the restart.

The machine ran a complete CHKDSK during the reboot, all three stages, corrected and deleted some bad index entries, all with no help (except moral support) from me, and booted 100% clean into Windows.

So here I sit, totally amazed at this little $49 piece of software that just pulled my butt out of the fire “BIG time”. Everything’s here (on the “C” drive) all that remains is to put everything back together, button it up and I should be good-to-go!

I’m totally sold on this package, I might just go out and get that new ‘bare-bones’ PC and slap this drive in it and see what happens! But for now, I’ll get to eat dinner, finish up some client work (make some backups!) and get a good nights sleep.

Spirit of Owl’s tag reply tomorrow!

Thanks again for all the notes of support and empathy, it really helped knowing all of you were pulling for me!

I’m thinking seriously of resurrecting some old 40GB drives and make clones of this one. It’s got all the software I used everyday, tuned and tweaked just the way I need it. I’ll let you what I decide.

Once again, thanks for reading, I promise some less ‘techie’ stuff for the rest of the week!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I hate computers!

I'm writing this from my backup PC, well actually the *new* PC I got last fall, because 'old faithful' died last night.

I had Spirit of Owl's tag all done but that PC is suffering from a terminal hard drive, and until I can get it copied and back together that post is lost in an inaccessible, magnetic storm of zeros and ones.

With any luck I’ll manage to get it done tonight, but most likely it will be tomorrow before its ready…. The truth is I’m still debating getting a new PC or replacing the drive… research… time… and G-d I hate replacing a PC!

I’ll try and get back later and let you all know where I stand.

Monday, June 20, 2005

It looks like I'm getting a second article published...

I met with the editor of the magazine today. She's a really nice woman and we had a nice chat about all sorts of things.

She confirmed that she's planning on my article "Reflections" for her September issue, and, that she liked the newest article even better! (It was about experiences at/with the local hospital).

In addition, she'd like me to consider some additional articles, even one about motorcycle riding in North Carolina, and a personal interest piece about our Motorcycle trip to the Rockies!

To say I'm excited would be an understatement!

I just wanted to take a moment here, and thank all of you. The fact you read here, and take the time to leave me comments has helped me move forward and begin to explore writing for more than just a way to pass the time!

I noticed today, that since May 14th, I've had over 1,200 visits here! In that time there's also been close to 3,000 page views, and the average reader spends just under 5 minutes reading here. (Aren’t stats wonderful?)

So, once again, "Thanks" to each and every one of you!

The Yager Road Body Shop…

From my post the other day, you know how we got here....

Mitch’s garage was an oversized 1 car garage; it was about 26’ long and maybe 14’ wide. Your average bay in a standard shop is more like 30’ long and 16’ (or so) wide. So we had some limited space, but between the two of us we fashioned some 6 to 8 inch deep wall cabinets to hold some tools, a small and fairly narrow ‘paint bench’ we used mainly for mixing paint, and ran air lines up on the wall to keep as much open floor space as possible.

There was no heat and no A/C in the old garage and we’d rigged up an old washing machine motor and fan blade in one window to act as our exhaust fan.

Mitch’s boss (yep, the first car we did belonged to Mitch’s boss) brought his wife’s old station wagon over that first weekend. We made a pretty good list of the things that needed attention, talked with Abe for a bit and then he left everything in our hands.

When I asked Mitch what he’d quoted Abe on the job, it was pretty obvious we’d have to be careful, and creative, if we were going to make any money. Fortunately, there wasn’t much rust on the old girl just a lot of dings, dents, scratches and chipping and flaking paint.

So we got started. In the process we’d talk about what type of paint we should use for the final finish. Now most of my (admittedly limited) background had been with Activated Acrylic Enamels, Polyurethanes and Lacquers. Mitch on the other hand had never sprayed anything but straight enamel.

(As an aside, most everything today is polyurethane based and uses an ‘activator’ which causes the paint to cure chemically, rather than by simple evaporation. While these are great for the finish, improve flow out, reduce drying times etc. They are also very dangerous to use as they contain isocyanates, and can adversely affect your health.)

So, we decided we’d squirt Abe’s car with enamel. It would minimize any of the problems associated with Lacquer, not to mention the sanding and buffing it also requires, and would cost significantly less than the newer paints.

As we worked our way around the car, it was getting very, what I call, ‘square’. What this meant was that the body panels were smooth, all the lines were straight as an arrow and there were no pin holes or other blemishes in the work. I was very pleased with what we’d done in about three evenings, and very much looking forward to getting the car in paint and getting paid!

So on Friday, I stopped at the paint store, picked up the paint, some reducer and ‘fish-eye’ eliminator (just in case), as well as a few fresh rolls of masking tape.

When I got home and back over to Mitch’s place he’d just finished putting on the guide coat and we quickly did one last block sanding on the car. With that finished we each did a last walk around and proclaimed her ready to go.

But, instead of starting right in on the paint, we decided to have a couple of beers, move the car outside, sweep down the garage, blow off any loose residual dust, etc. so we could hit it fresh in the morning. That’s just what we did. We also sat on the steps of his house for an hour or so, tipping beers and looking forward to the morning.

The morning… now that’s when our troubles started.

I’d never shot an entire car in enamel, and it takes a slightly different touch than the quicker drying paints I was used to, and, it’s extremely susceptible to rapid temperature changes… all things experience would have taught, and were about to teach, me!

The first coat went on just fine. The color his boss had chosen had good coverage ability (meaning it was opaque, rather than translucent, in nature) and even this first tack coat was looking really nice.

We went outside, got a cup of coffee and smoked a cigarette or two waiting for that first coat to ‘tack up’. To ‘tack up’ means waiting for the paint to begin to dry, so that when you place the second coat on, the additional weight of the paint won’t cause it to run, sag or otherwise ruin the finish. You may hear other folks call it ‘flash time’, it all means the same thing

Well, instead of 15 minutes, it took nearly 30 to tack up; Mitch suggested we add a slightly faster reducer this time, in hopes of cutting down our wait time. I agreed, and that’s what we did. Unfortunately, what we didn’t take into account was the rapidly rising temperature that day.

The second coat started out going on beautifully, smooth as glass, and very shiny. But, by the time we’d gotten fully around the car, the paint was looking much less smooth and not very shiny at all. In fact it was looking more like primer than a finish coat!

Once again we discussed the situation, decided we’d go back to the slower reducer, and even add a touch of ‘retarder’ this time (a retarder slows down the dry time, and usually aids in the flow out or smoothness of the paint).

We got started mixing that 3rd coat immediately as the last one was more than ready. This time, the temperature had now climbed well into the mid 90’s, and the 3rd coat was a disaster. It just flat looked bad, almost no shine and simply not acceptable.

As it was now about 11:15am, we climbed into the truck and headed over to the paint store (which was open ‘til noon), we made it with maybe 5 minutes to spare. The guy behind the counter knew us both and listened to our tale of woe and made two suggestions. One, put off delivering the car until the next day, and second to hand sand the car tonight, and top coat it in the morning using no reducers or additives. So we bought more paint, and some materials to assist in block sanding the car by hand (there goes a little more profit) and headed home.

It was well after 9:00pm that evening before we could actually sand on the car (remember I told you enamel takes a long time to dry!) and nearly 1:00am by the time we finished. We blew the car off, ran tack rags over it to pick up dust, and re-masked it before leaving though, which had us both leaving at well after 2:00am, with promises to be back and ready to go at 7:30am on Sunday.

Sunday morning came far too early, but, as usual Mitch’s wife had coffee made and was ever confident in our abilities.

(Debbie’s a wonderful woman, every bit as great as Mitch in every way. She rarely if ever was ‘down’, and would often come out and help us mask up cars in preparation for paint. She’d always make a beer run for us, and more often than not, had coffee on in the mornings, offered us a sandwich around lunch time, and always had something tasty around dinnertime! She was, in my opinion, a perfect match for Mitch, and he for her!)

So about 7:45 we started getting ready, by 8:00 I was full on spraying on that final top coat. It went as well as we could have hoped. It wasn’t as nice as any of our subsequent jobs would be, but it was shiny and smooth!

By 9:30 the paint had tacked up enough that we rolled the car out into the sunlight. You know what? It actually looked pretty good! A hundred times better than when we’ve got it, and with each piece of chrome trim we placed back on, it looked even better.

Abe showed up around noon and we’d pulled the car back into the shop before he got there. He asked how things had turned out, we of course neglected to mention any of the problems we’d had, but instead inferred it had been a bit more work than we’d anticipated, but a deal is a deal.

I wish I had a picture, of his and his wife’s faces, when we backed that old station wagon out the door. The sun was out and brilliant that day, the car was just gleaming and so were they.

Abe slid Mitch a small wad of cash, we all shook hands and off they went.

After they’d gone, we opened a beer to celebrate, as only 24hrs before things had been looking pretty bleak. Mitch and I then took what we called “Deb’s cut” for the household expenses off the top, took the money to pay for the supplies out, and divvied up the remainder. As I recall, he and I spent the rest of that afternoon, sitting in Adirondack chairs in the shade, drinking beers and talking about what we should paint next.

That always seemed the best part of the job to me, sitting with my best friend, having a couple of cold ones, laughing at our mistakes, and planning the next ‘money maker’. I’ve mentioned before, we were all pretty broke in those days, but living seemed easier somehow. Maybe it’s time, maybe it’s a trick my memory plays on me, but I’d love to be living that way now. With as good a friend as Mitch, doing something we really enjoyed to do, and making some ‘mad money’ in the process. This was the first, of many of these jobs we did in that shop, if you folks are interested, I’ll attempt to relate a few more as I can.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

For Father’s Day…

As those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know, my Dad died over 20 years ago. I wrote some about him a while back, but with this being Father’s Day, I find I’m thinking more about him than usual.

You see, despite the years, I still miss him. I miss that little mischievous smile that used to cross his face at times, the light in his eyes when his family would all be gathered together in one place. Most amazingly (to me) though, I miss his advice.

It’s amazing to me, because for most of my life I hated it when he’d give me advice. It was rarely if ever what I wanted to hear. It was however, in retrospect, always what I needed to hear. It was advice, his ‘take’ if you will on the situation, and was normally not what you’d hear from your friends, associates or other family members.

I can remember once, when complaining to him about problems I was having early in my first marriage, that he told me:

“Sometimes, you just have to listen, even when you’ve heard it all before, or have no interest whatsoever in what she might be saying, just shut up and listen.”

I tried for quite a while to explain to him how I just couldn’t do it, that my brain refused to ‘listen’ in those situations. He simply kept telling me I had to learn how, that it was part and parcel to a good relationship to simply be there for your partner. I can still remember my frustration as that conversation ended. No sage advice just a solid ‘Cowboy Up’ and deal with it.

In the end, I did discover he was right, and while the marriage ended eventually, it wasn’t over that!

All of his advice came from the same place I suppose, his years of daily experience. Some learned from being married, and faithful, to the same woman for over 25 years and raising seven children. As he was growing up, in a world still darkened by the shadow of the “Great Depression”. From working for the same company for nearly his entire life, holding jobs from stock-boy to Vice-President with that company, and working through both good, and bad, financial times there.

He was a blunt; pull no punches type, both at work and at home. I had the chance (good fortune actually) to work with, or for, him, in various jobs over the years. In one of those jobs I was an assistant buyer. At one of the monthly meetings, the President (and owner) had charged us all with finding ways to increase the profitability of the enterprise, to look at everything and be prepared to discuss ideas at this meeting.

As we got started, there were a few small ideas floating around and when it was Dad’s turn to speak he started with something along the lines of “I’ve been looking at the gross profit dollars, as well as margins, on the product lines… I’d like to share some of that now.”

With that he began outlining the operating profit dollars from sales, and the ‘cost of goods’ associated with those dollars and concluded that ‘Tires’ (this was an automotive parts stores chain) were our least profitable item, had the lowest inventory turn rate and took up an inordinate amount of space in both the stores, and the warehouse (space costs money as well). The President slammed his fist on the table (can you guess who was responsible for buying tires?) and said something to the effect of: “I promised myself if tires got on the agenda here I was walking out of this meeting” and proceeded to get up and head for the door. At that point my Dad said:

“You should have told me tires were sacrosanct”

The president stopped dead, looked at my Dad, then around the table and responded with something like “You can all decide whatever you think is right, just leave tires out of it.”

Now Dad, had worked for this guy for decades, he knew tires were not up for discussion, but, he also knew they were a drain on the profit picture and was not going to just sit there quietly with that knowledge. Interestingly enough, nothing more was ever said about that, by anyone.

He gave me advice that day, in that meeting, without ever talking directly to me. It was:

“Speak your mind when asked; just have the facts to back you up. Don’t attack the person, attack the issue.”
He taught me a lot of things about life too, mostly by example. I remember being in a store with him one day, I don’t remember what we were buying, but he’d given the cashier a five, and she’d given him change for a ten. Now we were pretty broke in those days, poor (in terms of money anyway) in fact. Despite that, he looked up at the cashier and said quietly: “I think you’ve made a mistake…” She interrupted him saying “No, you gave me a ten, and I gave you change for a ten”… He smiled, that little smile l I miss so much and continued with “Yes, you did give me change for a ten, but, I only gave you a five” and preceded to hand her back the additional five dollars. No more words, just handed her the five and we headed out the door.

In the car I asked him why he gave her back the money. Again, that little smile appeared, and he said something to the effect of “If I kept it, 'I would have known I shouldn’t have, this way, 'I' know I did the right thing”.

Another lesson learned for me…

“Do the right thing, all the time. If you do that, even if you wind up ‘wrong’, it was for the right reasons, and, you’ll always be glad you did.”

He didn’t teach me things, by sitting down and explaining the world to me. I learned from him though, everyday, through the way he lived, interacted, with life, and the people in his life. I wish I could have had him around long enough to learn how not to worry about things though.

You see he didn’t worry; about debt, or if his house was better than the neighbors, if he had the nicest car, lawn, or a new TV. He had some sort of inner peace I’ve struggled all my life to find. I have little ‘gusts’ of it, where I’m extremely confident that all will turn out ok. But a lot of the time, I worry. About where the next contract gig is, will it pay enough, will I ever get to pay off the bills, can I afford this or that, where am I going to get the money for the new roof, or any of a thousand little things.

I remember one of my last conversations with him, shortly after he and my Mom had moved to Chicago with the company, where he told me their refrigerator had died, and how for the first time in his life, he’d simply gone to Sears and paid cash for a new one. That there had never been a time before that, when they’d needed a major appliance (or anything else substantial for that matter) that he’d been able to just write a check for it.

I’m glad he got to experience that, as he was gone less than a year later. He’d spent his life working, providing for all of us, going from one bill to another to keep the household running, never complaining, just simply doing it. But finally, he’d reached a point where, when life threw him a curve, it wasn’t really a curve after all, just a minor inconvenience.

When I look at my life, and the good things in it, I see his ‘touch’ (and my Mom’s) all over it. At least once a week, I wish I could call him up and say “Thank You”, to let him know, in the end, I did learn all those things, and put them to good use, but I can’t. I know, if he can see me now, there’s that sparkle in his eye, and that little smile… and he’s thinking “I knew it all along”.

For those of you who are still fortunate enough to still have your Dad around, and despite whatever differences you may have, give him a hug today, tell him you appreciate what he’s done for you, that you’re trying to learn the lessons he’s given you and that you love him. Life is too short to hold those things inside, and ‘think’ he knows, or that you can tell him tomorrow.

Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and read this. As always, I encourage you to leave me your thoughts on this before you go.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The college days…

I returned to college in 1979. I hadn’t really spent much time there prior to that. Oh, I did the requisite segue from High School to college. Initially I attended Mohawk Valley Community College with a major in electrical technology. With my astute reasoning powers of the day I deduced that since I’d been building all sorts of things electrical in high school, like band lighting systems and recovering TV’s and radios from the dump, I be a natural for that career.

As you all know, it didn’t turn out that way. I was terminally bored, and found the seemingly endless party opportunities far more interesting. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, it was more a case of I was ahead of the class in enough areas that I convinced myself I didn’t need to study. Needless to say I was wrong. So after two rather mediocre semesters I dropped out.

Naturally in my perfect reasoning I’d deduced that the troubles in Vietnam would long be over before I’d have anything to worry about… wrong again…

So after a summer spent in blissful enjoyment and losing two jobs in the process I enlisted.

When I got back home from my military service in 1973 I initially filed for unemployment, and signed up at Herkimer County Community College in their business curriculum. Now I figured I had it made, no real job, and with unemployment and GI Bill money coming in I’d be living the good life. That lasted all of about 1 semester.

Near the end of that fall semester I got a job offer to be an assistant parts buyer for a chain of auto parts stores. Pretty cool gig for a 21 year old, whose main interest, other than women, was cars. On top of that they offered me the incredible (to me, in 1973) annual salary of $9,600/year!! Once again I went for the cash; school was something “I” didn’t need!

Several job changes and a small business later I found myself working at that Dodge dealership after I closed up the garage. The job was fine, but let me tell you something, once you’ve worked for yourself, it’s very, very, hard to work as an employee again. I just wasn’t happy.

By the holidays that year I knew I needed to make a change, to do something different. College seemed like the right plan at this particular time. So I investigated, found I still had quite a bit of GI Bill left, was eligible for student loans, and could complete my associates degree in about a year if I took an ‘overload’ and a summer class or two.

So I went back to school. I was 27 then, nearly a decade older than my fellow students, but I seemed to fit in, and got busy.

That first year, I just went to school, concentrated on classes and did the odd weekend job to make gas and book money. Most of the rest of my income was replaced by the GI Bill checks and the loans (I wasn’t making all that much back then).

As that year came to a close, I made the decision to continue and see if I could get through the next two years and get my Bachelors degree.

I can remember being very nervous as I headed into that first year at SUNY College of Technology, not knowing if I could ‘cut it’, if the money, or my resolve, would hold out.

It turned out to be an incredible time for me. I was doing well in school. Learning, it turned out was not that hard once I found something I was interested in! I was majoring in Business Administration and working on ‘concentrations’ (their term for a minor) in Accounting and Finance, I was soaking up this information like a sponge. The classes were fun and the fact that I was getting very good grades was even more fun!

But, like with most things in life, money seemed to be in ever shorter supply. Gas prices were rising, and ‘Bertha’ was not exactly a gas miser type of vehicle. That 80 mile round trip commute was quickly cutting into the allocated funds.

So I started picking up jobs, where ever I could, to put some dollars back in the household ‘pot’.

I worked that Winter break on a firewood crew, for Don Templar. We’d hit the wood lot at day break and work until dark, every day. Back breaking work, as another fellow and I drove the wood wagon into the woods, loaded the cut ‘rounds’ by hand, drove it back to the staging area, unloaded it, again by hand and repeated the trip. The two of us attempting to keep pace with the guys on the chainsaws, all day, every day, from dawn ‘til dusk, one break in the morning, a half hour for lunch, one break in the afternoon.

I remember it would be so cold in the mornings, often 15, 20 or more degrees below zero, without the wind chill, and I’d have on thermal underwear, two layers of clothes, a down vest, and a jacket. By morning break I’d be down to the vest, by lunch to just my two layers of clothes, by afternoon break to one layer, and often just that thermal shirt on top.

But it was good, honest hard work, and Don paid me a fair wage, at a time I really needed it.

After the break, I landed a job as the advertising manager for an automotive chain store. I knew the guy was paying me about half what the job was worth, but, he was letting me work around my school schedule, and I could do some work from home evenings and weekends (my first ‘telecommute gig). For a while at least, then he began to think I was ‘cheating’ him on my hours, we had a rather heated discussion at the end of which I told him I would never take any work home again. That later backfired on him, but that’s another story.

As spring was ending and summer approached, my neighbor Mitch and I were talking one day and it turned out one of the guys he worked with wanted to get his car painted.

Well, in less than 10 minutes we’d worked out a deal, and decided we’d paint a few cars in his garage that summer. We painted more than a few, between one and two a week, for the whole summer, until it got too cold in the fall to do any more. I actually made more money doing that, with Mitch, than I did at the ‘regular’ job. I sometimes think we should have just opened up a legitimate shop, but, then I realize it would have taken the fun out of it!

I look back on these times, with great fondness. I know I was struggling financially, and the mental strain of it all was sometimes more than I thought I could bear. These ‘car painting’ days with Mitch however were always fun.

This post, was primarily a lead up to one about our adventures in his garage that, and the subsequent summer. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you’ve enjoyed the other ‘memories’ posts, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy the next one on Monday as well!

Thanks again for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts and comments before you go!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Tacit knowledge…

Today we take a slight detour from my memories back to IT/IS… it is all about the code, isn’t it?

I read an article today entitled “The Tacit Dimension of tech support” the premise of the article was that some IT ‘wizards’ often don’t have the detailed ‘knowledge’ tid-bits stored away mentally for immediate recall, but rather are very good at ‘finding’ the answer.

Like a lot of things I read, that article got me thinking.

It finally dawned on me why anyone that I know, assumes that I know, the answer to their particular PC question. This fellow is right; it is about knowing how to find the answer, not necessarily about ‘knowing’ the answer.

I’ve been programming for over 20 years now. In the early days, there was no internet, no built-in 200Mb ‘help’ file, no online anything. In those days I was very good at hitting the index section of the manual and zeroing in on what I needed to know.

I realized today, that I’ve been doing this my entire career, and that while the amount of things I need to know to do my job has increased ten or a hundred fold, so has my ability to search for and access information.

Last fall an associate and I were installing a small office network for a client and I needed to retrieve some configuration guidelines I’d seen before. I was totally lost, the office internet connection wasn’t in place yet and there was no WiFi in the building. If any of you have looked at the manuals that come with software these days, you know there’s not much there. We were in real trouble.

Fortunately, the place is fairly close to the local airport, so I grabbed my laptop and headed over there for my internet ‘fix’. In less than 10 minutes I had what I’d needed and was on my way back. We finished up the install without further incident.

We could have had the network working, and come back later to tweak the installation, but travel time is down time (as in I’m not earning). It was much more cost effective to do what I did.

In the early days, I would have had a ‘dial-up’ account and used CompuServe or some similar service all of us Techno-folk used back then, today, we all pretty much take broadband internet access for granted. I for one am in big trouble without it.

With it I don’t have to remember a lot of fairly useless details. I don’t carry around 50 or more ‘floppies’ with all sorts of tools and configuration files on them I can simply Google for whatever it is I need and have pages of answers in a couple of seconds. The internet has become my own personal ‘toolkit’.

Google,and similar search engines, another I use a lot is, have become my ‘index’ to things technical. If I’m trying to decide, for example, how to alter to the intellisense pop ups in Visual FoxPro, I simply Google this and get back almost 3,500 pages that reference this stuff. I know from experience that the first page or two is likely to have the best information, yet, if I need to look further, I can.

The entire FoxPro (and almost any popular) language reference library is on line, for the most current, and several older, versions. Why worry about searching the ‘help’ files when the search abilities of most websites (especially Microsoft’s developer site) exceed the Help files abilities?

So, when my wife asks me how I do what I do, would I write down the steps, I find I can’t do that. It’s frustrated previous clients, employers, friends, associates and colleagues… but I simply do not know how to put into words what causes me to use the search phrases I use, to be able to spot a good link from a bad one 9 out of ten times, and how to get my answer without winding up in some bizarre chat room!

I don’t know how I did it with manuals either. Maybe it was years of looking up technical specifications for cars/trucks and bikes, determining what parts would, and would not fit, knowing who to ask, where to look, that prepared me for all of this. Honestly, I don’t know.

I do know I rely heavily on the internet, its vast repository of information, technical articles, user forums, code samples, tips, tricks and general coding wizardry. While I’m absolutely convinced I get far more work done because of it, I also know it can be the largest time waster ever invented if you’re not careful.

I don’t know what sort of tacit intuition is in place that helps me find the exact menu item to accomplish the task at hand on a piece of software I’ve never used before. The truth is, I really don’t care about the ‘how’, what I do care about is that I “can”. A great Cajun Chef, Justin Wilson, used to say “I don know how I do it, I’m jess glad I did it” when asked where his incredible recipes came from… I feel very much the same way!

Thanks again for stopping by… if you can, drop me a comment; tell me what you’re thinking.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mitch, Bertha and me…

Firehawk mentioned his big old Dodge truck, and I started thinking about ‘Bertha’. Mitch named that truck and I don’t really remember why. She was a beast though.

In the days before I bought her, she had been a farm truck. The farmer who'd bought her new, had traded her in at the dealership (where I went to work after I closed the garage) and they’d sent it back to the body shop for us to touch up and detail before it went out on the lot.

After working on it for about 20 minutes I went up front and asked the owner, Frank Ryan (Frank was Josephine’s brother and they were partners in the Dodge dealership), what he had to have for her.

He thought a little, I told him I was interested, and would come back at lunch, but until we talked I’d hold off on doing any further work on it. I figured there was no need to run the price up!

When I went back to see Frank at lunch, he was all set to deal. He had paperwork, coffee, pens, carbon paper, the works. We talked some; haggled a little, argued a bit, laughed a lot and eventually he sold it to me for $150 more than he had in it. I remember his margin, but not the exact price, but $1,300 seems like the number. As I recall, he took me to lunch at a place called the “White Elephant” after we closed the deal.

It was a 1973, 4 wheel drive, Maroon in color, full 8 foot bed and capable of being registered for 9000 pounds (gross vehicle weight). Exactly what I needed to keep the driveway clear in the winter and haul firewood all summer… She was perfect.

For about three weeks.

Then I began thinking about ways to put ‘a little more power’ in that power wagon. About three weeks after that I redid the top end of the motor, Sig Erson cam, valve job, Edelbrock intake manifold, Holley carb with a some tweaks by way of a ‘trick kit’, Accel distributor and a shift kit for the transmission.

A set of Doug Thorley headers and a custom bent exhaust system later and now she sounded as good as she looked. (Although the 30 mile drive to the muffler shop with open headers was an interesting experience in meeting the fine men and women of law enforcement).

I was as proud of that truck as a man can be.

For about 3 months.

Then I found myself longing for a ‘little more ground clearance’. So I started looking for wheels, tires and a way to add about 3” of ‘lift’. This was the late 70’s, trucks like Bigfoot were just coming into their own, but there was not a ready supply of reasonable and reliable lift kits yet.

I had a friend, Jimmy Greenfield, though who was managing a spring shop in Whitesboro, NY at the time and he told me he could re-arch the springs and give me the lift I wanted. So I bought the wheels and tires, tossed them in the bed and dropped the truck off on my way to work one morning.

When I picked it up that evening, she was sitting perfectly level, 3-4” higher than stock, and he’d added an extra helper leaf in the rear for load capacity. Now she was perfect.

I did some regular maintenance after that, but not much else. I plowed driveways in the winter, hauled firewood in the summer, building materials all year and on occasion would humble someone in a hill climb with their brand new Jeep, Ford or Chevy… it was a great balance of functional fun!

But now to the point of this rather long story. As you know Mitch lived next door, our street was fairly sparsely populated maybe six houses in the half mile from the corner to my house. So when Tim and Veronica Migon began preparing a lot across the street and a little north of my place, we all stopped by and offered our help and friendship.

They’d had the lot graded off the day before this one, and today the dealer was coming to ‘spot their new trailer’. They were excited, and Mitch and I had stopped over, with a cooler of beer, to watch, and in general share in this little bit of neighborhood excitement.

About an hour before the trailer arrived, it began to rain. One of those long, heavy, summer showers, one that you think initially will be over soon because it’s raining so hard, but then settles in and rains for several hours.

Needless to say, by the time the trailer and the set up crew arrived, the ground was very wet, muddy actually as the dozer had just finished the day before.

Undaunted the driver, and the crew set about making the turn into their dirt and gravel driveway, and lining up to place the trailer in the spot prepared. Unfortunately for that driver, about 5 feet off the driveway he got the tractor, and the trailer stuck. He couldn’t move back, couldn’t go forward, and had the driveway, and the road blocked off.

So Mitch and I are standing there, in the rain, soaked to the skin, torn between feeling sorry for Tim and Veronica, but laughing inside at these guys who certainly should have known better. Then Mitch gets this glint in his eye and says to me “Go get Bertha”. I laughed, at first, then looked around saw there was enough space between the trees to squeeze her in.

I walked over to the job foreman and asked if they’d like a little help. His reply was “Do you have a dozer?” I explained that I had a pickup truck, and if he wanted, I’d pull the truck and trailer out of the mud and help them spot it.

At first he laughed, dismissed the idea, told me there was no way I could get back there and a few other things I don’t remember, something about me not being very smart, or a ‘college boy’, or something. Anyway, as he was finishing up telling me all the reasons why I couldn’t do it, I simply asked him again “Would you like some help, or not?”

What could he say? Of course he wanted some help!

So I ran across the street, climbed up in Bertha, turned the key and fired that mother up.

As I slipped through the trees, the lope of the cam and the ‘wooden..wooden… wooden’ of the motor caused the whole crew to turn and look. I rolled on up in front of the tractor, Mitch and I hooked the chains to the frame rails on the Dodge and waited for the driver to hook to his truck. As he was, I noticed he was attaching the chains to the front axle of the truck.

I got out, walked back and suggested he might want to hook his end to the frame, not the axle, as I didn’t want to mess up his truck by pulling the axle out from underneath it. After a short discussion, where again he inferred I wasn’t a very knowledgeable fellow, he agreed, and we were set.

I climbed back in the Dodge, Mitch stayed outside to guide me getting the slack out of the chains and as they pulled tight, I dropped the hammer on Bertha. Mud was flying, that engine was singing and we were going… nowhere.

Mitch started slapping the side of the truck bed, I backed off the throttle, he walked up to my window and said “Hang on a minute”… Mitch walked over to the tractor, climbed up and talked to the driver a minute, climbed down from the cab and walked back over to me.

As he reached my window he said “Let’s try this again, now that he’s not in reverse” and walked to the back of my truck.

Again we pulled the slack up, I dropped the hammer and that old Dodge was dancing on the end of those chains… for about 30 seconds… then, as the tires dug down through the mud, and found some traction… we began to move… slowly at first, then a little faster.

I eased back on the gas, the grip got better, we kept moving and soon I had the trailer ‘spotted’ on the pad.

Mitch and I unhooked the chains, shook hands with Tim, nodded to Veronica and started for the truck. The big rig driver caught us before we did though, and started talking about how “that was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen”, my pickup towing his rig, and that trailer, in the mud. We all laughed a little, shook hands and Mitch and I headed back to our homes.

For months after that, everywhere I went locally, that was the story being told, about me, Mitch, and Bertha. I swear this is how it happened, about the only thing I didn’t do was dwell on the rain… but it was raining… the kind of rain that as dusk sets in makes it hard to see 20 feet. It was all good though, a few months later a fellow who’d heard about Bertha offered me about three times what I had invested in her, so he definitely wanted her more than I did!!

I sold him the truck, but I kept the memories.

Thanks again for reading, and feel free to leave your thoughts and comments before you go!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Road trips….

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road. On the road, driving by car to and from various contract gigs, and rolling up at least 100,000 miles on motorcycles.

Of these trips, the bike rides always seem to yield the most interesting experiences for me. People react differently to folks on bikes. Their reaction falls into one, of two, distinct camps in my experience.

The first camp is comprised of those folks who are fearful of bikers. Some of these folks may have had a bad experience with bikers. They might be afraid of what might happen; bikers (in general) after all do have a rather nasty reputation. Some (mothers I’m sure), seem to have this distant stare where, in my mind, they’re picturing their child after a bad accident on a bike. They seem to stare distantly for a moment, then give you that ‘mother look’ as they turn away.

The second camp is comprised of (at least) three types of people.

The first is folks who currently ride. They’ll generally walk right up, make a complimentary statement about your bike, and then start right in telling you about theirs. A trip they’re planning, one they took last year, or the new ‘part’ they’re adding to the bike this year.

The second are the folks, usually older (like my age) who rode at one time in their life. These folks will approach a little more cautiously, watching your eyes to see if you seem receptive. They too will make a comment like “nice bike”, ask where you’re headed (I could be getting gas at the corner station, someone still always asks where I’m headed), and then will tell you about the bike they had. Usually they were in their teens, and are hoping to ride again one day soon.

The third group is made up of those folks who have always dreamed of owning, and riding, a motorcycle. They’ll usually shout their “nice bike” from a few gas pumps away. If you acknowledge the comment, only then will they approach and begin to tell you how long they’ve dreamed about owning and riding a bike. Places they’ve dreamed about going, the kind of bike they’ve always wanted and why they’ve just not gotten around to it yet.

There have been times when those types of things have happened when not on a bike, but, they were rare, and only when I had a “righteous ride”, or at the least something radical.

So, for me, traveling by motorcycle is at least twice as much fun as traveling by any other means. I enjoy hearing the stories these folks tell me, it’s a bond, sort of. They want to share with me, the joy they’ve found in something they know we share. Its one little piece of motorcycling that would keep me riding, if none of the rest of this was there.

It’s not all fun and games. Riding bikes is dangerous, and can get you dead, if you don’t stay focused. For me however, it’s precisely the focus, the heightened awareness, the total ‘in the moment’ experience that defines motorcycling, and that’s at the very root of my love of it.

At the same time, I’m often heard saying that “You’re never quite as alone as you are when you’re riding a motorcycle”. There’s nothing else, except that experience, and you. You’re in charge of your destiny, how fast, how slow, how far ahead you’re planning. Is that curve ahead going to get tighter beyond where you can see, where to set up for the turn in? What are the road conditions like, is it damp, sandy, is there debris on the surface?

All the while, you’re smelling cut grass, fresh manure; hear the sounds of the combines bringing in corn. You can feel the temperature shift as you head into that valley, the cool breeze coming off the lake, your wife or girlfriend leaning into your back, reminding you you’re sharing this experience with her. You’ll hear crickets, dogs, livestock, bull frogs, birds and cicada’s as you roll down the road.

In these days of highly air conditioned, sound proof vehicles, killer stereos, cell phones, personal listening devices and in car DVD players we’re cut off from the outside world once we close those doors. We’re just cruising along in living room luxury.

That’s why my bike is relatively Spartan in terms of creature comforts. I do have a windscreen for trips that will involve 100’s of miles on the concrete slabs that are the interstate. As well as saddlebags, tankbag and a seat pack to hold the required gear on a long trip. Other than that, it’s bare essentials all the way.

You see, in motorcycling, as in life, it’s the journey that matters. Or as my old biker buddy Tim White used to say “The ride is the destination”.

I intend to write some soon, about the adventures on two wheels that Tim and I have shared. One real thing we had in common was that, riding, was what we wanted to do. We worked for a time at the same company, and each Friday folks would always ask where he and I were headed on the bikes that weekend. Our answer was always the same one word “Riding”. We weren’t being flippant, or sarcastic, just stating a fact.

We rarely knew when we left work that day, where exactly we’d end up. Sometimes we’d flip a coin, or alternate turn choices, at the first dozen intersections, before we had even a general direction. Once we’d gotten 30-40 miles out of town, we’d stop, drag out a map, look for some good roads in our general area and head for them. Riding until dusk and then looking for a small motel before calling it a night.

Often we’d sit around the pool, or anywhere outside, and talk about the ride, remembering curves, deer or wild turkeys that had crossed in front of us, and sometimes drag that map out again looking for the nearest twisty roads by flashlight for our trek in the morning.

On occasion if it had been a particularly hot day, we’d have a beer or two, but never more than two it seemed, and on nine out of ten nights just a cold bottle of water or ‘Gatorade’. Alcohol dulls the senses, slows your reaction times, neither of which is desirable when motorcycling!

Tim and I racked up close to 20,000 miles together in just about a year, our jobs did not require us to ride and we usually drove our cars to work! With the exception of one trip up to NY, we rode all of those miles in North Carolina. I could post blogs for a month, just about our trips, and not cover a tenth of our experiences, or the fun we had.

Tim, and his wife Donna live in Missouri these days, but we managed to get together again back in 2001 for a couple of great rides; the first was on RealLady’s and my “motorcycle honeymoon”, the second was our vacation later that year to the Rockies. I suspect those will be the first two rides I write about as they’re the freshest in my mind. They each deserve their own post though; one could not possibly do either trip justice!

As always, thanks for reading… Feel free to leave me a comment, thought or idea before you go!

Monday, June 13, 2005

What I liked about Best...

Joe Best that is…

While I’m thinking about the old ‘Garage Days’, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little about Joe Best.

Joe worked in a competing garage in Oneida, but would come over and ‘hang out’ from time to time at my shop. His interests were more in line with mine and what I was trying to do (build a hot-rod shop) than in the brake jobs and oil changes he dealt with daily.

I know we originally met at a place called the “Gin Mill” which was conveniently located just two doors down, behind my shop. A lot of us ‘Big-Block heads’ would stop in there after work and do some ‘bar racing’. Bar racing, for those of you that don’t know, is when at least two, and usually more, folks sit at the bar and discuss ‘go fast’ ideas, experiences and knowledge.

We built 100’s of cars, trucks and bikes at that bar, and had a lot of fun doing it.

Joe had this old pickup truck he called ‘Gator’. Now Gator wasn’t much to look at, it wasn’t fast, needed repairs on a regular basis, but, it was his. His, and the repair costs were far less than payments would have been on something newer.

I had plans to put some extra insulation in the attic of my place up in North Bay, and Joe generously offered to use Gator to take me to the Home Center to pick it up and bring it back (which from North Bay was about a 60 mile round trip). When I got in to the truck he mentioned I should be careful about where I placed my feet as most of the floor on the passenger side was ‘pretty rusty’.

That was his gentle way of saying ‘gone’… there was NO floor on the passenger side, but, there was the firewall, and with my feet safely pressed into the firewall we headed out. Along the way, he explained the truck had gotten the nickname ‘Gator’ as if you weren’t careful, it would bite your feet!

I should also mention that it was evening, the middle of winter, in Upstate NY, with air temps in the teens, even with the heater at full crank in the old truck, it probably never got above 40f in that old truck that night.

Despite the cold of the evening, I do remember that we laughed; from about the time we left, until we got back and unloaded. Hanging with Joe was like that. He was one of those people you meet, that no matter where you’re going, or what you’re doing, laughter is going to be part of it all. He always seemed able to find humor in things that would have others in a rage, even when something had upset him; he found a humorous way to relate the tale.

I also remember a weekend where Joe had come up for the day, it was late Summer or early Fall, we’d been working on some project at my place, maybe the new front springs in my Grand Prix, or hanging sheetrock in my garage, or some other pursuit. I do remember though that he and I ate an entire pot of Chili at the end of the day. For one reason or another, it just tasted really good that day! A few hours later, as he was getting ready to back out of the driveway, Gator’s clutch gave out. I don’t mean it was slipping a little, I mean the truck would not move, at all.

So, as we’re talking about it he tells me that he’s got the parts, but had been waiting until Monday to change them at work. With very little additional discussion, we decided that we needed to make that change right now, in the driveway.

As with most professional mechanics, all of our ‘real’ tools were at our respective shops. Undaunted we just attacked the task in that gravel driveway, in the dark, with flashlights and the few tools we had on hand.

Now this would be a much funnier story, if we hadn’t been successful. Or if my (at the time) wife’s prediction we were going to get ourselves seriously injured, or killed, had proved true.

Instead, what happened was that two friends labored in the dark, with a limited supply of tools, no ‘lifting’ equipment to support the truck’s transmission and managed to swap out the clutch, and get him on his way home. I still remember straining to hold up that transmission has he worked as fast as he could to get the parts in place. We even laughed about the absurdity of ‘us’ having to do this in a gravel driveway, with two perfectly good shops only 15 miles away!

I talked with Joe last fall. He’s in the HVAC business these days, married with kids and from what he told me doing quite well. As I understand it he only does installations in new construction, no ‘house calls’ or emergency repair work. We talked cars, hot rods and old times, and we made each other a promise to catch up if either of us is ever ‘local’ to the other one.

I’m going to have to make that NY trip soon, too many old friends, too long far from me. I do know if I get to ride the bike up, he and I will throw a leg and ride some of those sweet, twisty, back country Upstate NY roads again.

I have no doubt, that when Joe and I do catch up, we’ll laugh ‘till our cheeks and bellies hurt!

Again, thanks for reading, and as always I encourage you to leave me your thoughts, and comments!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

It’s all about the paint (job)…

Years ago, very close to 30 years ago now, I ran a small automotive shop in Oneida, NY.

It started as the realization of a dream of mine, and like most things you wish for, it didn’t turn out quite like I’d originally envisioned. Oh it started out great, huge excitement, anticipation of being my own boss, visions of independent wealth and so on. The reality however, turned out much differently.

I can still remember my first paying customer though. She owned a Toyota Land Cruiser, early 70’s style (this all began in the fall of 1977) and had a problem with the throttle linkage. It was a small problem, took maybe 30 minutes for me to fix for her, she paid me in cash (I still love cash) and was a customer until we closed the doors in late 1979.

Unfortunately, she, and a small select group were my only regular repair customers for a long time. It seems I’d made the mistake of opening up in a location that had previously been run by a series of folks who had, let’s just say, ‘questionable character’. Those are not my words, but from the stories I heard. I only met one of the guys who’d previously attempted to run a business from that location, and I personally had no problems with the man.

The reputation however, was ever present. It was a small town, and like most things in small towns, that reputation was always a point of discussion.

As I was inclined to do in those days, I refused to acknowledge there was a problem, convinced my skills and personality would eventually win me a sizable client base. I did get some great clients, and made an even larger number of friends, but, there never seemed to be quite enough money to pay all the bills each month. So, each month I’d get a little further behind.

In typical manly fashion I hid that reality from my wife at the time. My preference then was instead to get fairly ‘relaxed’ at a local pub on the way home each evening. I know now it was a futile effort to escape the ever present possibility that this, my first real business, would fail. In retrospect I should have shared my problems with her; I was just too young, too proud and living in the fear of being seen as a failure in her eyes.

Then, one day, a fellow pulled up to the pumps in a black 1971 340 Challenger T/A, the paint had a ‘flip-flop’ over lay and a beautiful mural on the trunk lid. So, I told him “Nice ride”, and we started talking. Over the next few weeks, he’d stop in for gas, we’d talk cars, hot-rods and custom paint jobs. It turned out he had painted the car himself, was the top guy in the body shop of a local car dealership, and quite the painter and artist. Eventually, he said to me: “I’ve been wondering… if you’d let me hang out my ‘shingle’ here?”, as we talked about it, what he wanted was a place, besides the dealership he worked at, to paint some cars on the side.

Well, that day Al Dimuaro and I struck a deal. He’d line up some work, I’d do some prep work during the day between other jobs, he’d stop in after work and do some more, he’d do the paint and we’d split the profit on each job. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

It turned out great too. We always had work. All of a sudden, folks were lining up to get Al (and me) to paint their vehicles. We even had a guy; with a brand new Chevy pickup have us repaint it for him. We’re talking a vehicle with no nicks, dings, dents or scratches and maybe 3,000 miles on the odometer. I still remember what he said he wanted: “I want it different, don’t want to see another one like it… but… don’t want it to stick out so much that everyone in town can tell my wife where I’ve been”.

It seemed simple enough, we’d multi-tone and stripe it, using non-Chevy colors, put a few subtle tweaks on it and we’d collect the $700 we’d told him it would cost. (By the way, this was back in 1978 folks, at a time when Earl Shibe was advertising the $59 paint job, it was a ton of money we thought)

It all turned out fine in the end, he got what he paid for, and we got paid, but it was not quite as simple as we’d anticipated. (Is anything?). The prep work went fine; it was when we began to lay the paint on that the problems started. The first coat (often called the tack coat) went on great, but during the second coat we began to experience what’s called ‘fish-eyes’ in the finish. Now fish-eyes are caused by residual silicones that are left on the surface, we’d washed the truck and used a silicone remover before we’d started. This problem was not on the agenda!

I should also mention that this was happening at about 9:00pm and there was nothing open in the way of a paint supply store. Fortunately, Al had a key to the dealership, and some additive for the paint to eliminate the problem in his toolbox there. He went and got it, and we completed the paint job, but with one ‘small’ problem. The paint looked good, but, if you looked closely, at certain angles, you could still see where those ‘fish-eyes’ had been.

There was only one fix for that, hand sanding! I spent the entire next day wet-sanding that truck, by hand, to eliminate the ‘crater lines’. That evening after drying off and re-masking the truck, we sprayed one more topcoat of the colors (there were three) and two coats of clear. The next day, a Saturday, we spent the entire morning finishing up by wet sanding and buffing that final product.

The owner showed up at about noon, with cash, loved the result and drove off a very happy man. Al and I were exhausted from several very long nights and little sleep. It turned out, in the end; the owner had used some new special silicone based ‘lifetime’ type car shine product and had neglected to mention it.

One other car I remember pretty vividly was a late model Dodge Charger, probably a 1978, and the guy wanted the scene from a Hallmark card in a mural on the rear of the trunk lid. It was close to noon on a Saturday and Al and I had plans to do a little work on our own vehicles, but we were a little short on ‘beer money’. So, ever creative, Al tells the guy, “Ok, $100 bucks, and you go get two cases of Miller ponies” (the little 8oz bottles, which were the beer of choice on hot summer days as you could finish one before it got warm, or the paint had dried too long.)

Well, the guy agrees and heads off to the beer shop about a mile away. Al and I started in on the trunk deck. I was masking and sanding the surface; Al was looking through our paint remnants for colors and cutting templates at the work bench. We finished at about the same time. It was as I watched him work on that mural that I realized how talented Al really was, in the next 15 minutes, with a standard Binks #7 spray gun and those templates, he recreated that Hallmark card scene on the car. It was so fast, that the clear coat was dry by the time the customer got back (it was all done in lacquer, even synthetic enamels would not have been dry that quickly).

I was amazed, the customer astounded, and we each had $50 in our pockets and more than enough beer for the afternoon.

There were literally 100’s of cars, and customers, like this. The shop started to become a fun place again, the bills were getting paid, I was even making some headway on the past due items and I was finally having as much fun as I’d originally thought I would.

But, it wasn’t to last. We got so busy in the shop that I shut down the gas pumps. It was actually costing me money, not making money to pump gas. That decision triggered a series of problems with the town ‘zoning’ board. There was something in the zoning law that they’d failed to mention when I’d checked into the location that said something to the effect of: “…Fix, paint, weld or repair cars… must offer gasoline for sale to the public.”

About that same time, the owner of the building approached me and wanted to buy me out of my lease. Seemed she had a buyer for the property.

Now Josephine was a negotiator. She owned a car dealership with her brother, and in addition to several months of rent free occupancy, she offered me a job, at a very fair wage, as the assistant shop manager in the dealership once I’d closed the shop. Between her offer, and the ongoing zoning issues, and the marginal profitability, my choice was clear. I took the deal.

Those last three months were fun though. With no rent or utilities to pay, we slammed a bunch of work out the doors, I paid down my debts significantly and the work was all fun again.

I remember a great deal of sadness when I locked those doors for the final time. In fact I sat for quite a while in the truck, in the parking lot, thinking about all the great work we’d done, the fun, the laughs and how I’d miss them. The job at the dealership is another story all in itself that I may tell one day. Most of all I remember this time in my life as the one that eventually convinced me to return to college and get a degree. That one decision continues to have positive effects on my life today.

Maybe it was all just ‘paying my dues’, or a learning experience in being careful what I wish for, I don’t really know. What I do know is that it yielded memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

The last I heard, Al and his family were living in Arizona, Al working as a manager in a construction firm. I sincerely hope he’s still painting a car or two on the side, or at the very least painting, drawing or doing something artistic. He had such a wonderful talent, I’d hate to think he wasn’t using it. Al was a great guy too, loved his wife and their kids. He never seemed to mind that he'd traded 'toys' for the family. In fact, as I recall, he'd rather buy Janie, or the kids something, than spend money on himself. Al's another of the people in my life I wish could be living next door!

Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and read this. As always I’m interested in your thoughts, comments or general musings after reading this.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Annual Physical…

I’m at the age now where an annual physical is not just a good idea, according to everything I’ve read; it’s pretty much a requirement.

First, why is it that Doctors are rarely, if ever, on time? I find it particularly annoying that if you show up 33 seconds late the first thing you hear is, “you’re late for your appointment”, and then the next thing you hear is “The Doctor is running late today”. My mind immediately screams, “Then why the hell does it matter if I’m late!!”… But, I rarely say anything; hey she’s just doing her job.

Eventually I get the call, it’s like I’m the ‘chosen one’… and I’m immediately led to a smaller room where… I can wait some more. The doctor shows up, looking appropriately pressed for time (I think that look is learned in a first year medical school course) and we begin to talk.

Now starts one of the most humbling experiences I have each year. It’s the time I’m reminded, by a Doctor younger than me (I’m not exactly sure when that first happened, but most are younger than me now!), of all the things I’ve failed to do ‘health-wise’ in the last year. As if I don’t know that; I didn’t lose any weight, quitting smoking is a good idea, taking multivitamins, exercising and having a positive mental attitude are all things I should be doing!

Somewhere around age 48 the annual testicular exam started, this is where the doctor tries to carry on some inane casual conversation while looking for who knows what with the ‘boys’, which is then immediately followed by the wonderful DRE (digital rectal exam). I guess, since my pants are already around my ankles, it’s the appropriate time (hard to run away at this point). I don’t care how ‘dignified’ you are normally; it’s all out the window for this one. I defy anyone to tell me they felt they retained their ‘dignity’ while undergoing this exam!

I won’t even go into the amount of KY they use and how interesting it feels walking on the treadmill later during the stress test with properly ‘greased’ butt cheeks.

As if that’s not enough, now, at age 53, it seems I’m supposed to have the first colonoscopy of my life. The endoscopy was bad enough; I’m not at all looking forward to being scoped out from the other end! So when my Doc asks ‘who’ I’d like to have “do the procedure”, and rattles off a list of names, I picked the guy who did the endoscope. I figure he’s already looked around from the top down… he might as well be the one looking from the bottom up!

And just when did an annual physical start taking like 4-5 hours? I know I was in, and out, in under an hour last year! Maybe he just fully realized I’m over 50? Or he plans a more involved process every other year? I mean they drew a number of blood samples, a urine sample, some other samples I’d rather not go into. I was beginning to feel like when they got done ‘sampling’, they’d have all of me!

I do like my Doc though; he actually told me I need to drink more!! It seems I’m not getting my 1.5-2 drinks per day and it’s his opinion that I should be attempting to hit that target (for protecting my heart). He did not think it was funny however when I asked if I could just drink 14 on Saturdays.

I’m putting it here, in print, for all to see. I’m gonna quit smoking! He suggested I pick a date like July 4th, but, that’s too distant a goal for me, so I’m becoming smoke free on Monday, June 20, 2005. Between now and then, I’ve also decided that I’m going back to the gym to get a little head start. I’ve found that if I exercise I have less desire to smoke, but, I can’t deal with the initial soreness and the cravings at the same time. So beginning today, I’m officially a gym rat again.

He also offered me all sorts of medications to assist with the task; I’m just not sure I want to go that route. It may just be me, but Welbutrin and Zanax seem like a bit much, I don’t remember that last time I quit being all that tough after the first couple of days. Hell, I can tolerate anything for 48 hours!

Besides, it seems to me I got started smoking (again) by making a decision, I should be able to make another and stop. So for at least three weeks, beginning that Monday, I’ll post the “smoke free days” count at the end of the post for the day.

I could go on, but, in reality, I’d have to stretch the truth. The physical wasn’t all that bad, and I understand the need for all of the ‘procedures’. All in all, from what he’s said, I’m in pretty good health, the tests are preventative in nature and I agree they’re a good idea.

The one other decision I made today, is that I’m going to lose at least 40 pounds. My blood pressure is not where I’d like to see it, and I know with me it’s directly related to my weight. So, hopefully, I’ll shed the pounds and my BP will return to numbers that will make me, and the Doc, happy! I’ll be posting the cumulative loss number right below the days at the end of each week.

Once again, thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave your comments and thoughts before you go, I love reading them!